A Justice League Review – Lessons Learned

TITLE: Justice League
STARRING: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller
DIRECTOR: Zack Snyder
STUDIOS: Warner Bros. Pictures, DC Films, RatPac Entertainment, Atlas Entertainment, Cruel and Unusual Films
RATED: PG-13
RUN-TIME:
 120 min
RELEASED: November 17, 2017

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Justice League is a standard superhero popcorn flick. It’s nowhere near as dark, dreary, and generally abysmal as Batman v Superman. But it also doesn’t accomplish anything remotely special. It’s about a team of heroes coming together to fight a villain with a doomsday plan. Been there, done that. Several times, actually. So what we get comes off completely and utterly average.

After all these years, the first Justice League feature film is just average. What an awful, heartbreaking waste…

The plot is basic enough to surmise from the advertising. As the world continues to mourn the death of Superman, we’ve got a new big bad in town. Steppenwolf, a tyrant from the hellscape world of Apokalips, has returned to Earth after thousands of years with his army of Parademons in tow. He aims to conquer the world using the immense power of three “Mother Boxes.” Batman and Wonder Woman prepare to meet this invasion head on by assembling a team of super-powered heroes. The Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman are all called to action. But in the end, they won’t be enough. For this new team to triumph, Superman must return…

Trust me, it’s a lot more exciting on paper than it is on screen.

Justice League is the culmination of the years-long comedy of errors that is the “DC Extended Universe.” Man of Steel was an adequate start, flawed as it was with it’s dreary look and overindulgent third act. It was followed by the downright dour Batman v Superman, which robbed its characters of almost any charm, heart, or likability. Suicide Squad wasted arguably pop culture’s most iconic supervillain in the Joker, but managed to be fun in a mindless hot mess sort of way. Wonder Woman was the exception that made the rule. It felt like a single vision, with purpose, heart, and passion put into it.

And so, on one the most rickety foundations in cinematic history, Justice League was built. Like Suicide Squad before it, this movie feels like a melting pot of visions, voices, and priorities clumped together to form a viable commercial product. Our director is once again Zack Snyder. But with their confidence shaken from the backlash to Batman v Superman, Warner Bros. brought in Avengers director Joss Whedon to reshape the script. Thus, we have a Joss Whedon superhero movie taking place in Zack Snyder’s grim DC Universe, under the management of a studio desperate to compete with Marvel at the box office. Hot damn! Sign me up!

One of the major missteps in Justice League is it’s choice of villain. DC Comics lore is full of baddies worthy of challenging Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. Darkseid is the obvious choice. But you’ve also got big cosmic villains like Brainiac, Mongul, and Despero. Professor Ivo and the Amazo android could have made for an interesting story. Hell, team Lex Luthor up with the Joker! It sure as hell beats Steppenwolf…

Yes, Steppenwolf. A second-rate, paper-thin, poorly rendered Darkseid stand-in with an army of space bugs, a silly name, and a generic doomsday plot. This is who they came up with to face the Justice League in their debut feature film. Strictly from a cynical marketing standpoint, how the hell to you pass up slapping Darkseid, Brainiac, or Lex Luthor on t-shirts and posters, and instead opt for someone called Steppenwolf?

Justice League cost a whopping $300 million to make. That’s astounding, considering our CGI-rendered Steppenwolf looks like he was done in the late ’90s. It’s not just him, either. It’s been well documented that reshoots were done with a mustached Henry Cavill. The movie’s opening sequence wasn’t even over before Mrs. Primary Ignition turned to me and asked, “What’s up with Superman’s mouth?” Certain shots in Batman’s introduction are also extremely fake looking. Makes you wonder what the hell happened to good old fashioned stunt doubles and prosthetic make up…

Superman has a certain aura of reverence in this movie. Had that been earned or established in Man of Steel or Batman v Superman, that would have been fantastic. I’ve always been a proponent of Superman being the center, or at least part of the center, of the DC Universe. He’s certainly its moral backbone. But all this mourning we see over Superman doesn’t match the controversial figure we saw in Batman v Superman. Yes, some people loved him. But he was also the subject of protests and a congressional hearing. Lois Lane, Batman, Wonder Woman, and those who knew Superman have a reason to miss him. But based on what we saw before, there’d be a large contingent of people who’d be glad Superman died.

So now that I’ve sufficiently ripped Justice League apart, what’s there to like? What did they get right? Believe it or not, all was not lost from the get go…

Unlike in Batman v. Superman, almost all of our heroes are likable. Superman knows how to smile. Wonder Woman is compassionate, but still fierce. I’ve never needed a lot of selling on Ben Affleck’s Batman. Joss Whedon’s influence in the movie is obvious when the Dark Knight gets in a quip or two. Ezra Miller plays a socially inept Flash, who provides much of the comic relief. His costume looks absolutely ridiculous. But there’s a certain charm to him. Jason Momoa’s Aquaman is surprisingly okay as a dude bro. For a team flick, it works fine. Granted it’s not the approach I would have gone with, and they’ll obviously need to deepen his character for the Aquaman solo movie. Assuming that’s still in the pipeline after all this.

As much as this movie fell short of what it could have been, there is a certain warm and fuzzy quality to seeing these characters on the big screen together. Most of them aren’t true to the essence of the iconic characters they’re based on. But at the very least it’s cool on a superficial level to see Batman is standing next to Wonder Woman. Superman is running next to the Flash! Aquaman is in Atlantis! It’s a highly tarnished version of what we should be getting. But at least we’re getting it in some form. That counts for something.

And so, four years into the DC Extended Universe, what have we learned? What has the road to Justice League taught us? More than anything, it’s this: Darkness doesn’t equate to quality. At least not to larger audiences.

Some people point to darker tales like The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen as the pinnacle of the superhero genre. But while they pushed the boundaries of how these stories and characters could work and be seen, they weren’t simply dark for the sake of darkness. The Dark Knight Returns isn’t just about an older and grittier Batman getting to punch Superman in the face. It’s about a hero returning to face a world that’s changed in his absence. Watchmen isn’t about Rorschach beating people up. It’s a look at superheroes from a different, more grounded angle. The dark tones fit the stories and the characters, not the other way around.

We also need to remember that at the end of the day these characters are meant for children. That doesn’t mean we can’t love them as adults. We don’t need to dumb them down for kids, but we can’t keep them all for ourselves either. If DC and Warner Bros. should have learned one thing from Disney and Marvel, it wasn’t the cinematic universe element. It’s that these movies can be accessible to viewers of all ages. They can be mature without being meant for mature audiences.

The blame Justice League‘s failures, creative and otherwise, falls primarily on the studio higher-ups. But the finger also needs to be pointed at Zack Snyder. He’s got a devoted fanbase that will filet me for saying so. But if Batman v Superman didn’t convince you, the fact that the first Justice League movie didn’t outperform the third Thor movie should say it all. Snyder must be kept far away from any and all future DC films. I shudder to think what this movie would have looked like without Joss Whedon’s influence. 

Superhero movies can be thrilling, emotional, and surprisingly versatile. But at their core, they aren’t complicated. Give us a hero worth rooting for, a villain worth rooting against, and a reason for them to fight. We don’t need to see a bad guy get his neck snapped, a bomb inside a jar of piss, or a city destroyed to compensate for a lack of emotional connection with the audience. 

Lessons learned. Six years and millions of dollars too late. But lessons learned…

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A Detective Comics #965 Review – Robin Resurrected

TITLE: Detective Comics #965
AUTHOR: James Tynion IV
PENCILLER: Eddy Barrows
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: September 27, 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Here’s something I don’t think I’ve ever shared: My first trade paperback was Batman: A Lonely Place of Dying. I picked it up during what might have been my first ever trip to a comic shop in the mid-90s. I had no idea what the story was about. Just that it had Batman and Robin on the cover. At this point they still looked pretty similar to Adam West and Burt Ward on the classic TV show. So I found myself pulled in. It remains in my library to this day. It’s easily the most tattered and worn trade I own. But it’s earned its spot up there. A Lonely Place of Dying introduced me to Batman’s current status quo. It’s how I learned about Jason Todd. It was my first Nightwing story. It also introduced me to Tim Drake, a character I would practically grow up alongside.

That’s what makes Detective Comics #965 a special issue for me. I’m sure it’s special for a lot of fans my age. It’s a love letter to A Lonely Place of Dying and much of the early Tim Drake material, bringing it into modern canon. We also see an intriguing component from Geoff Johns’ work with the character in Teen Titans. For those of us who hated what happened to Tim in the New 52 reboot, it’s fanboy nirvana. I imagine this is how die-hard Flash fans felt when Wally West came back in DC Universe Rebirth.

It’s been quite awhile since Tim was imprisoned by the mysterious Mister Oz. But what drew this ominous hooded figure to Red Robin in the first place? We get the answer to that question as Tim prepares to finally strike back. But in attempting to escape, our hero will come face with the last person he ever expected to see…

During our first seven pages, we alternate between present day and flashbacks to Tim’s early days with Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson. Most of this material is pulled from A Lonely Place of Dying. James Tynion IV, Eddy Barrows, and our creative team focus on very specific moments from that story. For the most part, they pull the exact dialogue written by Marv Wolfman, and take care to honor but not duplicate the work done by artists like Jim Aparo and George Perez. Clothing and hairstyles have been updated, and the classic Robin costume has been switched out for its New 52 counterpart (shown left). I think we can also assume certain specifics from Lonely haven’t translated into modern canon. But by and large, the spirit of that story is intact. That’s such a beautiful thing to see. For so long,the events of Lonely have, for whatever reason, been glossed over. Even before the New 52, writers would always allude to Tim deducing Batman’s identity on its own. But it would rarely go further than that, presumably because certain aspects (Tim seeing Batman and Robin on TV, for example) didn’t match current continuity. But this material deserves as much attention as any part of Batman’s history. In that respect, this is justice done.

Detective Comics #965, and Tynion’s run on the series as a whole, also resurrects an idea introduced in the mid to late-90s: That Tim Drake has no intention of being Robin forever. He certainly doesn’t want to be Batman. His superhero career has an expiration date, and that has weighed heavily on his actions as of late. One of the things that makes Tim distinct amongst his fellow Robins is his independence. He’s willing to disagree with Batman, even if it creates a conflict between them. That’s a trait that suits Tim well, and Tynion uses it to inject some really nice drama into the big reveal later in the issue.

Eddy Barrows compliments Tynion’s writing very well. So I’m always happy to see him on Detective. He hits all the right emotional notes for the retro Tim Drake material. He made me feel like I was actually flipping through A Lonely Place of Dying, which is above and beyond what they were going for here. Colorist Ariano Lucas also lends a very nice sepia tone to those flashback scenes.

There are, however, a pair of light stumbles in the issue. On the page at left, Barrows has the unenviable task of recreating the debut of Tim Drake’s Robin costume from Batman #457 (shown left). By and large, he does very well. But that face is a miss. Something about the simple white slits for the eyes combined with the smile, which is slightly too big. Two pages prior, Barrows and the artistic team hit another smile related stumble with Tim. They weren’t aiming for creepy. But creepy is what we got.

I called this issue a love letter to Tim Drake. But James Tynion’s entire run on Detective Comics seems like a tribute to beloved ’90s characters either tossed aside or gutted in recent years. We’re talking Tim Drake, Cassandra Cain, Stephanie Brown, and even Anarky. It’s very much in tune with what the DC Rebirth initiative has been about, in that it celebrates the legacy of these characters while continuing to tell new stories. If that’s not Detective Comics #965 in a nutshell, I don’t know what is.

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A Batman, Vol. 3: I Am Bane Review – Jokerize Your Fries?

TITLE: Batman, Vol. 3: I Am Bane
AUTHOR: Tom King
PENCILLERS: David Finch, Mitch Gerads, Clay Mann
COLLECTS: Batman #1620#2324
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASED:
Aug 30, 2017

***Need to catch up? Check out the first two volumes: I Am Gotham and I Am Suicide.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Bane has never been the most sophisticated of characters. Created in the early ’90s, he was essentially the Bat-books’ answer to what Doomsday was in the Superman books. A big brute who could physically overpower the hero. A ‘roided up dude in a luchador mask, he certainly looks the part. But unlike Doomsday, who was basically a mindless killing machine, Bane was intended to have more depth. He had a tragic backstory and a cunning mind to match his physical dominance.

Oddly enough, I Am Bane explores the character’s more layered side, while at the same time making him look like a big dumb ape at certain points. It’s actually a fascinating balancing act.

After pulling the Psycho-Pirate from Bane’s clutches in Santa Prisca, Batman is now preparing for a full on assault from his old enemy. No one close to Bruce Wayne is safe. Adamant about taking Bane on alone, Batman places Alfred, Claire Clover (a.k.a. Gotham Girl), and the Psycho-Pirate in perhaps the unlikeliest of places to protect them: Arkham Asylum. Now Bane must make his way through a living hell to confront the Dark Knight. Once again, these two arch rivals will square off. In the end, one will be left broken.

I’ll credit author Tom King with giving Bane’s invasion of Gotham the weight it deserves. The first two issues have a grim tension in the air. In issue #16, Bruce insists that most of his surrogate family members flee the city, fearing for their lives. He hides Psycho-Pirate and the others inside Arkham, in a chamber designed by Mister Miracle. But Batman’s obsessive preparation isn’t enough, as Bane still manages to strike at those close to him, including Catwoman. The tone is terrific, the threat feels real, and we seem to have the makings of a hallmark Bane story…until the big man opens his mouth in issue #18.

King, David Finch, and their team are clearly going for classic early ’90s Bane. We get a big, bloody, brutal fight intercut with flashbacks as Bane taunts our hero. Think Batman #497, when the character broke Batman’s back. But King goes way too far over the top with Bane’s dialogue. In issue #18, as he rambles off comparisons between himself and Batman’s other enemies, he almost seems to be reciting a poem…

“I am not a joke! I am not a riddle! I am not a bird or a cat or a penguin! I’m not a scarecrow or a plant or a puppet! I am not your broken friend! I am not your regretful teacher! I am not a child’s fairy tale! I am not a circus act here to amuse and frighten you!”

Alright, dude. We get it…

Things get worse in issue #19, when he storms Arkham and starts running into various villains. He spouts off little one-liners. Thing that would be fine on their own, but clumped together in one issue almost make Bane a parody of himself.

Two-Face: “…what’re you offering?”
Bane: “Pain. I offer pain.”

Scarecrow: “What nightmares are you having?”
Bane: “I don’t have nightmares, I GIVE nightmares!”

Mr. Freeze: “Impossible…”
Bane: “Not impossible. Bane.”

The fight winds up ending on yet another stupid, overblown catchphrase. Not from Bane, but from Batman. The sad thing is that the action itself is pretty good, for the most part. If King had trimmed a lot of this excess verbiage and allowed the art to speak more for itself, this would have been much more effective. I understand wanting to show the animalistic side of Bane. But they overdid it.

I will say, however, that the contrasting flashbacks between Bruce’s childhood and Bane’s are very well done. There’s a school of thought that many of Batman’s villains double as examples of how Bruce could have turned out after his parents were killed, had circumstances been different. This is about as on-the-nose as you can get in that respect. But it works.

What doesn’t work as well for me is the Batman-themed fast food restaurant we see in issue #16. Dick, Jason, Damian, and Duke drag Bruce there for a family meeting of sorts. It’s decked out various paraphernalia from the various Batman heroes and villains. The scene opens with Bruce talking to a kid behind the counter, who’s wearing a cheap Batman mask. He asks Bruce if he wants to “Jokerize your fries?” I get what they were going for. There’s a fun meta aspect to having these characters see their own licensing and merchandising. “Jokerize your fries” is actually a pretty good line. But from an in-story perspective, using the most feared man in Gotham City’s likeness to sell fast food stretches the gag too far for me. I understand that’s part of the joke. But to me that would be the equivalent of selling Bin Laden burgers in the real world.

David Finch handles most of the art in I Am Bane. I’ve been pretty critical of his work. But I’ve also said that if you have to have him, you want him on dark or gritty stories like this. I Am Bane is one of his better recent outings. In issue #16, he has the extremely unenviable task of drawing Bruce, Dick, and Jason, all unmasked in the fast food scene. They’re all handsome, dark haired, clean shaven dudes. Finch has to make them all distinct and recognizable. The job he does isn’t amazing. But it’s serviceable. Thankfully, they’re not all wearing the same clothes, as they were in that creepy splash page in The Court of Owls.

Like many artists, Finch draws most of his superhero characters like competition bodybuilders. Thankfully, that’s right in Bane’s wheelhouse. The character looks every bit as gigantic and chiseled as he should without going overboard, which we saw from Finch’s work on the New 52 Dark Knight series. This version of Bane also has a great ferocity you don’t always see. That obviously works well during the big fight. One complaint: I’ve never liked it when artists put giant green tubes on Bane, as we see Finch do here. It brings back bad memories of Batman & Robin.

Inker Danny Miki (later joined by Trevor Scott) and colorist Jordie Bellaire compliment Finch very well. He’s got a team here that accentuates his strengths. Bellaire in particular is an absolute rock star.

After the main story, Mitch Gerads takes the pencil for issue #23, a standalone story featuring Swamp Thing. Despite being brutally titled “The Brave and the Mold,” it manages to be a fun issue. Gerads’ contributions to this series have been tremendous, going back to issues #15 and #16. He and King give us some fun visuals contrasting the vast difference in stature between Batman and Swamp Thing. A two-page spread with Bruce and the monster in Wayne Manor, shots of them in the Batcave and Batmobile, etc. The issue is broken into chapters that are separated via panels with text designed like silent movie intertitles, which is a cool tone device.

I’ve already talked at length about Batman #24, which contains a pretty big moment between Batman and Catwoman. A few months after its release, what has stuck with me is the exchange between Batman and Gotham Girl about happiness. We learn that Batman is Bruce Wayne’s attempt at finding happiness. As a longtime Batman fan, that notion fascinates me. We’re so used to Batman being dour, moody, and broody. So the idea that he’s doing all this to be happy is a little off-putting. But it makes a certain sense when you boil it down. In the end, that’s what we’re all trying to do, right? Find happiness. In that sense, Bruce is no different than anyone else.

By and large, the Bane portion of this book is a step down from I Am Suicide. But King, Finch, and the team really stick the landing with issue #23, and especially #24. There’s a lot of strictly okay stuff you’ve got to swim through. But when this book hits a homer, it really hits a homer. As far as issue #24 is concerned, that ball is still sailing.

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A DKIII: The Master Race #9 Review – The Dark Knight Reboots

TITLE: Dark Knight III: The Master Race #9
AUTHORS: Brian Azzarello, Frank Miller
PENCILLERS: Andy Kubert, Miller
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $5.99
RELEASED: June 7, 2017

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Well, there it is. May as well have called this one The Dark Knight Reboots. For all intents and purposes, that’s what it was. There’s no official word on a DKIV story going forward. But given what we saw here, it seems pretty damn likely. Between this and the incorporation of Watchmen into the canonical DC Universe, they just can’t help but play the hits. For better or worse…

This issue sees Batman, Superman, Batgirl (Carrie Kelley), Lara the Supergirl, and the other heroes have their final confrontation with Quar and the Kryptonian invaders. Afterward, the Dark Knight Universe has a new status quo. Especially now that Bruce Wayne has been revitalized via the Lazarus Pit. So where do our heroes go from here?

Let’s start with the positives. This issue, and the DKIII main story overall, were really well illustrated. Andy Kubert has been able to meld his style with just enough vintage Frank Miller to make this a unique presentation. Even Miller himself, when working on the mini-comics we got in each issue, was able to settle into a groove. His art has been widely derided in recent years. But while he started off shoddily, it’s been quite awhile since I’ve enjoyed his art this much.

Ray Palmer/The Atom has a really nice moment in this issue where he gets to thwart some of the bad guys. It was clever the way they incorporated Ray into all of this. So to see him “get his win back” in the end was cool.

I also liked what they did with Green Lantern. A little corny? Yes. But he had a great little sub-plot about defeat and redemption. And when you consider one of Green Lantern’s original creators, Martin Nodell, took inspiration from Aladdin and the magic lamp, it makes a kind of sense.

Maybe the reason I’m so into this new take on Green Lantern is because when you close DKIII, it’s one of the few things left that’s really and truly different about this universe. Yes, certain supporting characters are absent. And we’ve got Lara and Carrie in the picture, along with Clark and Diana’s young son. But think about it. We don’t even have that old, gritty, Clint Eastwood-style Batman anymore, now that Bruce has gone through the Lazarus Pit. The Justice League is essentially back together now. What’s left to do in this universe now?

Various points in this story felt like we were gearing up for a passing of the torch. Carrie Kelley becomes Gotham’s protector, while Lara takes over for her Superman. In the end, they pay that off with Carrie becoming Batwoman and teaming with Bruce. Then in our mini-comic, we see Lara is now under the tutelage of her father. This feels like they were didn’t want to remove Batman and Superman, for fear of how it would effect sales going forward. I can understand that. But the ending of this story feels so safe and sub-par anyway, that they may have made that sacrifice regardless.

So why not just go for it? Why not kill the Bruce Wayne character? The Joker had an iconic death scene in The Dark Knight Returns. You can take a crack at doing the same thing with Bruce here. Given how old he is, it’s getting more and more contrived to have him keep coming back in the Batsuit. So have him die in Superman’s arms in issue #6 or #7, prompting Carrie to officially take over for him as Batwoman. There’s an argument to be made for that being the ending DKR should have had.

Then, if you must bring Bruce back via the Lazarus Pit, have it be in DKIV. We can see him challenge Carrie for Gotham City, the effects of the pit having driven him insane.

Many a reader, myself included, has criticized Frank Miller for the bizarre and even offensive choices he made in The Dark Knight Strikes Again and All-Star Batman and Robin. But I’ll always credit Miller with being willing to take risks with his art. In the end, DKIII feels like they went too far in the other direction. The Dark Knight Returns has become a timeless piece of art. DKIII seems mostly like something thrown together by editors so that DC can continue to cash in on the team of Frank Miller and Batman. It’s a missed opportunity. With Brian Azzarello, Andy Kubert, and all these other supremely talented creators on board, they could have made something that allowed DC to sell more books, Instead we got something that feels largely hollow.

***For more DKIII: The Master Race, check out our reviews of issues #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, and #8.***

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A Batman #24 Review – Happiness is…?

TITLE: Batman #24
AUTHOR: Tom King
PENCILLERS: David Finch, Clay Mann
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: June 7, 2017

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Well I’ll be damned. A canonical marriage proposal from Batman to Catwoman. Can’t say I saw that coming. Until I saw all the spoilers the day before, of course. Oh well…

In the aftermath of “I Am Bane,” as well as seeing an alternate version of his father in “The Button,” Batman talks with Gotham Girl about her next move. As such, they dive into the question of why Bruce Wayne has chosen this life as Batman and whether or not it brings him any sort of happiness. This prompts our hero to seek out Catwoman that night and propose. We’re left without an answer from Selina as we close the issue.

The artistic duties for this issue are split between our regular penciller David Finch and guest penciller Clay Mann. The former handles the nighttime chase sequence with Batman and Catwoman and the eventual proposal, while Mann does the talk between Batman and Gotham Girl that lays the emotional groundwork. I’m not sure what necessitated this, but it works out for the better. With due respect, sentimentality isn’t David Finch’s strong suit. He’s more about drawing muscly, curvy people doing things in the dark. Until we get to the proposal itself, that’s really what his work in this issue consists of. I’m not downing him, as the daytime/nighttime contrast works out well.

The Gotham Girl we get in the issue is more playful. Though perhaps she simply seems that way, as she’s been in a perpetual state of terror since issue #6. The sketchier style we see in that scene suits its quieter, more intimate nature. Upon second viewing, I do wish Mann had been able to make her face more expressive. She looks downright wooden in certain panels. Thankfully, what she’s saying is intriguing enough to pull focus away from that.

The issue in its entirety is colored beautifully by Jordie Bellaire, setting the timeframes perfectly. The darkness of Batman’s costume, contrasted with the early morning sunlight is a sight to behold.

When I reviewed the “Rooftops” story from Batman #14 and #15, I said that in many ways this was a story we’d been waiting over 75 years for. These characters had been dancing around romance for decades. Now they were finally admitting they loved each other. They were allowing themselves something they’d always forbidden. And yes, they had sex on a rooftop. But as we’ve seen in many a Batman story, they wound up going their separate ways in the end.

Issue #24 is in essence a continuation of “Rooftops.” Bruce admits that he tries to be happy, but isn’t. And so he finally does something for himself, asking Selina to marry him.

Has Tom King ever talked about Batman: Hush? That was the famous Jeph Loeb/Jim Lee run from the early 2000s where Bruce revealed his identity to Selina, and for a time they were together. What we get in Batman #24 is the outcome you wanted from Hush. But of course, Bruce denied himself happiness at the end. I wonder if King, or someone on the Batman editorial team, took inspiration from Hush for this story, what with it being the classic that it is.

My favorite line in comes when Bruce tells Gotham Girl: “But what you don’t know, Claire, is that I try. I do this to be happy. I try, and I fail.” I’m sure that seems corny to some. But it makes sense to me. We’re all looking for happiness. Even if we try and deny it to ourselves, we typically still look for it subconsciously. Bruce was broken by the senseless act of violence that took his parents away. Batman is his way of sorting the world out and making himself feel better. But by closing himself off to others, like Selina, he sabotages his attempts at happiness. This is his attempt at finally rectifying that.

To his credit, King laid the groundwork for this in the pages of I Am Suicide. Issues #10 and #12 in particular, in which we read their letters to each other. I’m not a fan of some of the things Bruce says about suicide. But I credit King for his attempts to deconstruct this relationship, and really stripping it down to its core.

There is one major missed opportunity here. Just two issues prior, Bruce saw an alternate version of his father, the Flashpoint Batman. He’s told: “Don’t be Batman. Find happiness. Please.” That’s a profound moment, which should cut Bruce to his very core. But in this issue, which ultimately becomes about Bruce trying to find happiness, it’s never mentioned or alluded to. That’s a glaring omission, which I’m hoping is rectified next time.

King also gets cute with Bruce’s engagement ring for Selina. He says he got the ring after their first encounter, as he knew he’d give it to her someday. That’s a stock romance trope. Why not just have Bruce buy her a damn ring? Or give her one that his mother owned? It’s harmless, but still a little disappointing.

There’s also the line: “I’m not Batman because I like being Batman. I’m Batman because I’m Batman.” That’s a meme waiting to happen…

Tom King’s Batman run has been hit or miss for me, especially some of those early issues. But when he’s working on Batman and Catwoman, he’s in his element and tells emotional stories. That bodes well for what’s to come.

On the other hand, what if Selina says no…?

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A Batman/The Flash: “The Button” Review – Take the Good with the Bad

TITLE: “The Button”
AUTHORS: Joshua Williamson, Tom King
PENCILLERS: Jason Fabok, Howard Porter
COLLECTS: Batman #2122The Flash #2122
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
TENTATIVE COLLECTION PRICE: $19.99
COLLECTION RELEASE: October 2017

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I want to like what I’m seeing here. And I guess I do, for the most part. I just have to turn a certain part of my brain off. Namely, the part that registers guilt about a company cashing in on imagery and characters from a landmark story without their creator’s blessing.

After months without any leads relating to the mysterious button Batman discovered during the events of DC Universe: Rebirth #1, the Dark Knight gets a surprise visitor: The Reverse-Flash. But what’s his connection to the Button? Where does it come from? How does it connect to the apparent changes made to the timeline? And how does all of this somehow involve the world of Flashpoint?

“The Button” doesn’t give us any answers. But it does wet your appetite for the just-announced Doomsday Clock event in November. It also manages to tug at your heartstrings with some pre-New 52 imagery and characters. So it does what it’s supposed to do. We even catch a little glimpse of Dr. Manhattan at the end…sort of (shown below).

While we’ve known about the DC Universe/Watchmen stuff for about a year now (Has it really been that long?), I still feel dirty when I see the Watchmen imagery. It doesn’t do much good to complain about it, as what’s done is done. But considering what an achievement Watchmen was, and how revered it is to this day, without Alan Moore’s blessing there’s a certain lack of purity here. That’s only going to become more pronounced as we go forward.

Our inciting incident occurs when the button comes into contact with the Psycho-Pirate’s mask, causing the Reverse-Flash to materialize in the Batcave. After a fight, Batman and the Flash attempt to trace the button’s unique radiation to locate it’s source using Flash’s Cosmic Treadmill (Yup, that’s a thing.) After the Crisis on Infinite Earths reboot came and went in the mid-’80s, the Psycho-Pirate was the one character who retained his pre-Crisis memories. I assume Reverse-Flash’s reemergence has something to do with that memory retention. There’s no other explanation…is there?

“The Button” definitely gives us the vibe that this New 52 continuity we’ve been in for the past several years is an injustice perpetrated by Dr. Manhattan. Several years have been from the timeline, forcefully robbing our characters of their memories and in some cases their very existence. We check back in with Johnny Thunder, who at one point cries, “We lost the Justice Society! It’s all my fault!” We also see Saturn Girl of the Legion of Superheroes, who’s screaming about a future only she knows about. As Batman and Flash make their way through the timestream, we see glimpses of events from Crisis on Infinite Earths, Identity Crisis, and other stories that have seemingly been out of bounds for the New 52.

Then there’s the big surprise in the final issue: Jay Garrick’s brief return. Jay comes back much the way Wally West did in Rebirth, but is unable to find a tether to reality the way he did. He’s seemingly jerked back into non-existence via some familiar blue energy.

There’s a surreal and almost meta element to seeing characters like Jay and Wally pine to come back. Jay has a line, “They took everything from me, Barry. I don’t know how. I don’t know why.” Odd as it may sound, it feels like he’s talking about DC itself, doesn’t it? I’ve enjoyed the DC Rebirth initiative as much as anybody. But it does entail the company eating some crow. Yes, we’re happy to see so many familiar elements back in our books. But who took them away to begin with? Would they have gone through with the reboot if they knew they’d be backtracking it just four years later?

Oddly enough, the emotional meat of the story isn’t so much the return of Jay, or the drama of what’s been lost. It comes in when our heroes accidentally find themselves in the Flashpoint universe, and they come across that reality’s Batman, Thomas Wayne. Thus, we get a reunion of sorts between father and son, each Batman in their own world.

We’ve seen stories where Bruce somehow gets to talk to his parents again. Whether they’re ghosts, visions, or what not. But Batman #22 gives us two unique moments that manage to really hit home. The first is when Bruce tells Thomas, “You’re a grandfather. I have a son.” For older fans, that’s a really strong, relatable moment. The second comes as the Flashpoint sequence is ending. In their final moments together, Thomas asks Bruce not to be Batman anymore, and to instead find happiness. That’s a really compelling use of the Flashpoint Batman. I wasn’t expecting it here, but it creates a hell of a potential conflict for down the road. Can Bruce continue his crusade now?

Jason Fabok handles the Batman side of things, and handles them quite well. You can’t deny quality when you see it. His work has a definite epic quality to it, and is very much worthy of what we see here. The Flash issues are pencilled by Howard Porter, who I have a lot of respect for. That being said, his style has never really been my cup of tea. As cool as the time stream sequence in The Flash #21 is, Porter’s work gives it a certain awkwardness. For instance, there’s a panel where we can almost see up Batman’s nose. Not necessarily what we’re supposed to be looking at, is it?

“The Button” is a fine bridge between DC Universe Rebirth #1 and Doomsday Clock. For some of us, there’s going to be a lot of Watchmen-related discomfort on the horizon. But it looks like we’ll be getting our share of feel-good moments too. Take the good with the bad, I guess…

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An All-Star Batman: My Own Worst Enemy Review – Road Trip!

TITLE: All-Star Batman, Vol. 1: My Own Worst Enemy
AUTHOR: Scott Snyder
PENCILLERS: John Romita Jr, Declan Shalvey
COLLECTS: All-Star Batman #15
FORMAT: Hardcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $24.99
RELEASED: April 19, 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Let’s get the usual Scott Snyder spiel out of the way early. I like Snyder’s Batman stuff. He’s one of the best writers to pen the Dark Knight’s adventures in the last decade. But he does so many little things that are just infuriating. As such, otherwise brilliant stories become tainted so needlessly. Sadly, All-Star Batman, Vol. 1: My Own Worst Enemy is no  exception.

The dark side of Harvey Dent, a.k.a. Two-Face, is gradually taking over his twisted psyche. Harvey enlists Batman’s help to take him across the country and eliminate his dual identity once and for all. But Two-Face counters by blackmailing everyone in Gotham City. If Batman isn’t stopped, he’ll release every dirty secret he has. What’s more, the person that brings Batman down gets a fortune in untraceable cash. Batman, and his new apprentice Duke Thomas, are about to be hit from all sides.

Snyder’s premise is tremendous. The great thing about doing this kind of chase story with Batman is the near limitless amount of enemies you can bring in. In My Own Worst Enemy we see Killer Moth, Firefly, Black Spider, and Gentlemen Ghost. And that’s just the first issue. Of course, we also go higher up on the food chain with baddies like Killer Croc and the Court of Owls.

Snyder, John Romita Jr., and the team are clearly having fun with these action sequences. The opening scene with Batman, Firefly, and Killer Moth in the diner has some blaring flaws (more on those later). But the two-page spread on the left packs a hell of a punch.  The book as a whole has some of the most intense and energetic work Romita has done in quite some time. Certainly since he’s come to DC. We later get a sequence on top of a train, which leads to a gorgeous fight in a river between Batman and Two-Face. I also loved the fight with KGBeast in issue #3, which is so bloody it’s actually reminiscent Romita’s work in Kick-Ass.

As such, it makes sense that All-Star Batman and Kick-Ass had the same colorist: Dean White. As the blood continues to spill, the panels start to take on rusty colors, similar to what we see in the climax of the original Kick-Ass. What’s more, White’s touch makes some of the outdoor sequences really pop. That’s especially the case in issue #2, with the greens, browns, and blues. Though if I may say, Killer Croc might be a bit too bright. He’s Killer Croc, not Kermit the Frog.

What Snyder really nails in this book is the twisted psychology of Two-Face. The emphasis on secrets hammers home the point that everyone has a certain duality and dark side to their personality. A side which, if you believe Two-Face represents who they truly are. Snyder even takes us into the mechanics of Harvey and Two-Face. The two personalities can keep secrets from one another, influence each other’s behavior, etc. You get the sense these are aspects of the Two-Face character that Snyder has wanted to explore for awhile, but hasn’t had the chance. Details like this help to make My Own Worst Enemy one of the more compelling Two-Face stories in recent memory.

That’s why it’s all the more frustrating when Snyder sprinkles in moments that seem tremendously out of character for Batman. The most notable ones occur during fight sequences in the first two issues. In the aforementioned diner scene, Batman says: “Hey. All of you in this diner. Look at me. Not them. Look at my face. No one is dying today.” He then winks at them (shown right). On the next page, he makes a crack about the life cycle of a moth before stabbing Killer Moth through the hand.

Later, during he train sequence in issue #2, Batman says to Killer Croc: “Hey Waylon. Appaloosa called…they want their fool back.”

Let’s not kid ourselves. Batman is a silly character. Silly, and versatile enough to be both dark and brooding, yet somehow funny in the same issue. That being said, lines like this are just bad. And they’re so out of character for the Dark Knight that they leave a bad taste in your mouth for the rest of the story. As good as Snyder is, and as fun as these action sequences are otherwise, this is a Batman story, not a Lethal Weapon movie.

As our story continues, we see that even Batman isn’t immune to Two-Face’s little secrets scheme, as Jim Gordon and the GCPD are about to walk into the Batcave. Snyder somewhat blurs the lines as far as what Gordon does or doesn’t know about Bruce Wayne and Batman. In the middle of issue #5, as the cops are about to break into the cave, Gordon pulls Alfred aside. He tells him to “I don’t know what’s true, you hear me? I never have. … Call him and get him to do whatever he has to do to turn this back. You tell him he has one chance.”

This is somewhat reminiscent of what we got toward the end of “No Man’s Land” almost 20 years ago. Only in that story, we had a little hint of doubt that maybe Gordon did know the truth. In this story, it’s the reverse. We’re literally standing in Wayne Manor as everything is about to be revealed, and we get a hint that maybe Gordon doesn’t know. Frankly, that’s not nearly as effective as what happened in “No Man’s Land.” Here, it’s fairly obvious that Gordon knows. And if he doesn’t, then he’s a complete moron.

Snyder did something similar with the Joker back in “Zero Year.” He and Greg Capullo made it pretty clear that the Red Hood One character was the guy that becomes the Joker. But then he threw in a twist that cast doubt over the whole thing. With both the Joker and Jim Gordon, it’s pretty obvious what Snyder wants to do. But for some reason, he doesn’t fully pull the trigger on it.

This first volume of All-Star Batman also collects “The Cursed Wheel,” which is comprised of back-up stories from the first four issues by Snyder, penciller/inker Declan Shalvey, and colorist Jordie Bellaire. The story is fine for the most part. It centers around Batman training Duke Thomas to be…whatever he’s going to be. There’s an argument to be made that Shalvey’s art is actually superior to Romita’s. It’s crisp, it’s clean, and it’s beautifully complimented by Bellaire.

Snyder sprinkles a little Joker dust on things by showing us Duke’s parents, who’ve been driven insane and in effect “Jokerized” after the events of “Endgame.” In issue #4, Duke poses the theory that the Joker is not pure evil. He simply attacks what he loves, and his serum prompts it’s victims to do the same. The idea isn’t explored much, but it’s a tremendous character insight.

On the flip side, you have the concept of the Cursed Wheel. It’s meant to be a condensed version of all the training Bruce did to become Batman. Each portion/color represents a different part of the human psyche. This could have been really interesting. But they got a little too cute with it. What spoiled it for me was this…

“Look at the colors. You see hints of them in the colors of your allies. Dick leans blue. Damian, green. Barbara, purple. It’s a secret history that unites them, connects them and differentiates them.”

So the colors that Nightwing, Batgirl, Robin, and other characters wear isn’t a simple color choice? Rather, it has some kind of deep-rooted psychological attachment to this wheel? So what about when Nightwing was wearing red? Or when Batgirl’s costume wasn’t purple? Hell, what about the other colors Robin wears? Furthermore, what traits to these different colors represent, exactly? Simply put, I don’t get it. The idea isn’t fleshed out enough, and the color coding is a little too silly for me. Sometimes a blue shirt is just a blue shirt.

The one word I would use to describe My Own Worst Enemy is “consistent.” Like Snyder’s work on Batman, we’ve got some really big and creative ideas here. It’s just that the bad ideas tend to flop as spectacularly as the good ones soar.

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